Coordinator, distinguished ladies and gentlemen, I would thank you for the special privilege given to me to make a statement before responding to questions. I made that request because probably I may be one of the few, or if not the first, to address you as an acting president. (Laughter.)
Of course, the circumstances that led to me being addressed as acting president are very well known to most of you. Those circumstances were quite disturbing to us as a nation. But definitely, the concern of quite a number of key players globally, especially from America and the other parts of the world, helped to stabilise us as a nation.
And I feel in that sense Iâ€™m addressing the Council on Foreign Relations, which is a very powerful body â€” let me use it as an opportunity to appreciate all what you have done individually and collectively. Today, as a nation, we are stable and we are moving forward. I feel like â€” (applause) â€” I have to make this opening statement before I respond to the issues that you will raise.
I wish to commend the esteemed members of the Council on Foreign Relations for its continued interest in Nigerian Affairs. We are always ready to work with the council on areas of mutual interest, especially those that foster greater understanding, facilitate growth and promote the mutual development of our two nations.
In this regard, the signing of the Binational Commission last week opens up a new vista of opportunity for Nigeria-U.S. relations. The BNC marks a new threshold for greater collaboration between the private sectors of our two countries, which we must support to drive our economies.
Opportunity to make lasting impact
Distinguished ladies and gentlemen, there is no doubt in my mind that we are presented with an opportunity to make a lasting impact on the future direction of Nigeria.
When I was a young man growing up in the Niger Delta, as expressed, I had great dreams for the future. I was fascinated by science and discovery, and the transformational powers of technology. So I pursued a course of study in science, and for 10 years I remained in the field of science as a teacher nurturing the growth of young scientists in Nigeria.
When I ventured out of the classroom in 1993, it was again another opportunity to apply my background in science to protect the delicate ecosystem of the Niger Delta.
In both the classroom and my environmental-protection work, I came face to face with the challenges of sustainable development in Nigeria. The challenges of insufficient funding of critical sectors, mis-prioritization and low infrastructural base were always an obstacle to surmount. But as an individual, I continued to make progress and never conceded to these difficulties although, of course, I was later diverted to politics in 1999.
Throughout my political career, I have applied the lessons of scientific inquiry and technological innovation to meet the challenges that my constituents face.
Today, I am confronted with the greatest test of my political career. While we continue to pray for the recovery of our president, Alhaji Umaru Musa Yarâ€™Adua, it is my responsibility to work with all Nigerians to improve the pace of development and to do so facing the right direction.
We are choosing for ourselves what I will call foundational responsibilities which, if well shouldered, will form a solid base for the development of Nigeria from this point onward.
In this responsibility of consolidating and deepening our democracy, we are committed to ensuring that the remaining period of the administration is not a transitional period but one which we hope will one day be viewed as a watershed, a transformational time in our young democracy.
For us in Nigeria, this is our time. Either we continue with more of the same or we change the game. Thereâ€™s no doubt that we are being faced by some challenges in our country. But we have stabilized the politics. And we are determined to consolidate on the gains so recorded.
Our domestic focus
And for now our domestic focus must be on electoral reform, delivering peace dividends to the Niger Delta and the rest of the country, and standing strong on our resolve against corruption.
Internationally, we are determined to restore Nigeriaâ€™s image and traditional role as the key member of the international community. In an increasingly uncertain world, Nigeria is a key partner in our collective efforts to maintain peace and security in Africa and beyond.
Nigeria will reiterate its commitment to fight terrorism and rededicate our efforts to promote development, democracy and a shared value for human progress.
Distinguished ladies and gentlemen, I thank you for the opportunity to share our thoughts and hopes with you on the present and future. Thank you very sincerely. (Applause.)
Mr. Acting President, we thank you very much for those very inspiring words. And you can see we have a full house today. Thereâ€™s a lot of interest and concern about Nigeria. Weâ€™ll begin now maybe three or four core questions here. And then we will ask the audience to also participate.
Mr. Acting President, it was reported in the press that you met with President Obama yesterday afternoon. And could you give us your impressions of that meeting? And very generally what was discussed? Not the specifics. (Laughter.)
Actually the meeting was supposed to be a private meeting. But the meeting was quite fruitful. The American ambassador to Nigeria and our ambassador here, other ministers and, of course, the Secretary of State.
But anyways, we looked at contemporary issues in Nigeria â€” (inaudible) â€” official relationship between America and Nigeria. The meeting was quite warm and friendly.
Mr. Acting President, you have at most 12 months remaining in your current office. What do you hope to achieve? And what are your core priorities?
Definitely, when you have a very short period, you cannot really even as a politician promise people what you cannot deliver. But one thing I promised Nigerians, and the rest of society that has interest in Nigeria, is that we must set up clear goals.
There are certain things that we can achieve even for the next six months; certain things that are quite disturbing to the country, certainly the issues of conducting elections that are always questionable.
2011 polls ‘ll be credible
These are human issues. We donâ€™t need â€” (inaudible) â€” to solve it. So I have promised Nigerians and the rest of the world that 2011 elections in Nigeria would be credible. (Applause.)
I said so, because either I consider myself as a victim of elections that have been questioned. I worked very hard as the Governor of Bayelsa State then for us to have won the presidential election in 2007.
But the impression was that all things are not done properly. And it gave me worries. And I promised that the elections I was to provide for 2011 would be credible.
We are looking at reforming our electoral processes. But I mentioned to people that even without reforming the electoral laws we have, the present laws can enable you to conduct elections that will be more than 70 percent acceptable.
And we have experimented that. We read this issue to President Obama yesterday. We conducted state-concerned elections in Nigeria. And one of â€” (inaudible) â€” the governor is here, in Edo State.
We have also conducted a governorship election in one of our states, Anambra State. And only on Saturday, two days ago, we conducted local council elections in the Federal Capital Territory.
In Nigeria, local elections in the states are conducted by the state electoral bodies. But in the Federal Capital Territory â€” (inaudible) â€” national body that conducts the elections.
So that can give you â€” (inaudible) â€” for the state-concerned election conducted by this electoral body in Edo State, the governorship election conducted in Anambra State and the local council election conducted in Abuja, I show you clearly that we can conduct elections that will be acceptable.
It gives me hope. And Iâ€™m quite sure, and I can promise Nigerians and indeed the American audience, that 2011 elections in Nigeria will be credible. You donâ€™t need more than one here to achieve that. If I donâ€™t â€” (inaudible) â€” give me 10 years, I cannot achieve it. (Applause.)
On corruption, security
The issues of corruption that also bother us is also human factor. In every society, itâ€™s difficult to say you can eradicate corruption. But weâ€™ve set up the machinery to make sure that we continue to reduce it. The war against it will be sustained and will continue. (Inaudible.)
The issues of security, let me maybe talk about it. Niger Delta, the challenge we have in the Niger Delta, the amnesty programme, as some call it, we have restructured the management. And weâ€™re trying to â€” (inaudible) â€” start their training this month.
These are issues that you cannot really say you are going to conclude it in a year, because the issue of young men who have taken arms to fight â€” (inaudible) â€” some of them the capacity is quite low.
So, it takes a lot of time to train them, even for them to be in position to make a living through the same means. So itâ€™s not something you can say you can even complete in a four-year administration. But I can assure you that weâ€™ve set up a solid base. And I have a clear focus on the program, with timelines, that youâ€™ll see that we are progressing.
Christians, Muslims not at war
We also have this challenge where we have â€” (inaudible) â€” crisis in some parts of the country. Maybe if you take some parts of the north where, among the Muslim faithful, there are some sects that sometimes rise against the rest, because itâ€™s assumed that the others are not doing what is right.
And sometimes this is wrongly interpreted in the rest of the world as specifically a religious crisis in Nigeria, as if the Christians and the Muslims were at war. The Christians and Muslims are never at war in Nigeria. They will never be at war based on our own circumstances.
But we have this sectarian violence. These are things, security challenges, that would strengthen our security forces or be able to bring it down drastically.
So there are some key areas where â€” (inaudible) â€” 60 percent or more. But there are the areas of basic infrastructure that you need a gestational period, the planning period that is a period of education. Those areas will make sure that our road map is very clear.
If you take one of the greatest areas where we have challenges is the issue of power. Ordinarily by now, Nigerians neednâ€™t be talking about power, because most of you who have been to Nigeria, you see the volume of gas we burn every day from the oil industry activities. If we even have to convert 50 percent of the gas we burn to power, I donâ€™t think weâ€™ll be talking about power. But (decisions?) are not planned for a very long period of time.
So â€” and the power infrastructure is one that â€” it looks at the law of nature â€” (this is a little ?) of all or nothing. You must complete all the processes for the bulb to light. If one micrometer is not completed, the bulb will never glow.
So those are areas where we will have the definite road map. If you look at even the â€” and itâ€™s one of the greater challenges we have, is the power sector.
And as â€” when I appointed the ministers, up to this time, we have not appointed a minister for power, because we are â€” weâ€™ve set up a committee, we are really re-examining it, we want to change the focus. I am presently coordinating a committee that â€” to handle the power sector. When we settle this deal very clearly, then we can bring in a minister to drive the process. But we are still talking at the committee level.
So in a summary, there are certain issues, there are certain challenges we have that within the next 12 months will surely succeed up to 50 percent, 70 percent. So itâ€™s really â€” it has to do with the human factor. But basic infrastructural areas â€” I cannot promise that weâ€™ll achieve so much, because the time is short. But you will see a clear road map.
Even if it is (road ?) infrastructure, even if it is the aviation sector, the transport sector, you will see a clear road map, and you will appreciate that we are moving forward. If we are not moving, you will know. If we are moving, weâ€™ll â€” you will know.